Call for tougher action over online posts linking Asian players to coronavirus

Anti-racism charities have called on social media platforms to take tougher action after a series of posts linking Asian footballers to the coronavirus.

Analysis by the PA news agency found numerous posts on Twitter linking South Korean Tottenham attacker Son Heung-min and Liverpool’s Japanese midfielder Takumi Minamino to the virus.

One, by prominent Twitter account Troll Football, showed a meme of Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho leaping from his seat with the caption “when you hear Heung Min Son coughing”.

It was followed by another image of the Portuguese looking relaxed with the tagline “but then you realise he’s Korean”. The post was later removed.

Another from the same account included an image of footballer Christian Eriksen signing a contract with his new club Inter Milan next to their Chinese chairman Steven Zhang.

The image – which has also been removed – had been edited to show Eriksen wearing a face mask.

Both posts were shared around ten thousand times each on Twitter. The account has more than 1.1 million followers.

PA found at least a hundred more similar posts from smaller, personal accounts referencing the virus and Son and Minamino.

One included a video of Lionel Messi celebrating, with the caption: “Football fans when Minamino spreads the coronavirus to the rest of the Liverpool team and they bottle the league.”

“It’s a very worrying time for the Chinese community in this country,” Ged Grebby, chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card, told PA.

“The platforms that are making billions of pounds… are ironically called social media… we don’t believe they have a social conscience or that they’re doing enough,” he said.

After being contacted by PA, Twitter removed the Troll Football posts, the oldest of which had been on the site for 10 days.

Of four examples of offending tweets by smaller accounts, Twitter removed only one and said the others – including the post with the video of Messi – did not violate their rules.

The company stated that it does not tolerate “the abuse or harassment of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease”.

One of Troll Football’s posts could also be found on its Instagram account, which has over 70,000 followers.

At the time of publication both Troll Football and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, had not responded to a PA request for comment.

After PA contacted Instagram, the posts were marked with a “sensitive content” warning but not removed from the site.

In September, Twitter said that over two weeks it took action on more than 700 examples of “hateful conduct” on its site following several cases of racist abuse involving Premier League footballers.

Advocacy group Hope Not Hate added: “No-one doubts that monitoring the billions of users on these platforms is a huge task.

“But it’s right to expect companies with equally huge resources to not allow their platforms to be abused in this way, and to ensure that bigotry isn’t normalised on their watch.”

Grebby described the situation surrounding coronavirus as “hysteria” and compared it to the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa – when numerous people “even kids as young as seven” were accused of having Ebola “for the sole reason they are black”.